Volunteer with Boden

The Boden Institute’s Annie Simpson highlights successful studies involving volunteers, the challenges in recruiting volunteers and the benefits involved.

By Tim Groenendyk

The Boden Institute

"A lot of the trials are looking for very specific criteria as far as a patient’s health and measurements are concerned." Annie Simpson

Annie Simpson, Clinic and Clinical Trials Manager at The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, said there are two main obstacles in volunteer recruitment for research studies.

“Firstly, recruiting the appropriate number of people for the trial, secondly having those people commit to a long term trial period.

“Getting someone to commit for that period can be very challenging and a lot of the trials are looking for very specific criteria as far as a patient’s health and measurements are concerned.

“To recruit people with those obstacles in our way is probably the most challenging aspect.”

These obstacles, however, definitely haven’t impeded successful studies at Boden, which use clinical research and trials to inform public health issues and health policy development.

“We did a massive trial with Weight Watchers. That was a global trial conducted in Australia, Germany and the UK.

“We needed 300 hundred volunteers for that trial to compare Weight Watchers against advice given by a GP.

“Not only did we have to recruit volunteers we had to recruit 100 GPs for the program as well.

“We performed the best out of the 3 countries as far as weight loss and also with retention - keeping participants in the study.

The study found that users of Weight Watchers lost more weight than those who sought advice from GPs.

A trial sponsored by the Korean Agro-fisheries corporation, comparing Korean and Western diets, was also successful, chiefly due to a high completion rate among the participants, many of whom were University employees.

“Which was great because we saw a lot of our colleagues losing a lot of weight,” said Simpson.

Another trial testing the weight loss drug liraglutide in a program called the SCALE study saw Boden performing the best out of five sites across Australia, not losing a single participant in 18 months despite other sites reaching a 50% drop out rate.

In recruiting volunteers Simpson explained that older participants make for better volunteers than younger ones.

“Older people tend to be a bit more compliant because they can really see how their lifestyle is affecting their health.

“When you’ve got someone who is obese or overweight in their 20s and 30s you can’t quite see it in their pathology results yet.

“By the time they get to their late 30s you can start to see their cholesterol, glucose and liver function test abnormalities, because they are developing metabolic syndrome and or fatty liver disease.

“It’s always good to be able to eyeball something and say ‘look what your weight’s doing to you. If you carry on like this you are likely to develop diabetes, and be at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.’

Volunteers for clinical trials are expensive but Simpson argued that it’s even more expensive if they drop out, and it’s not very good for science.

“If we lose a lot of people it also means that the results we get are not statistically significant.

Furthermore, it’s worthwhile for volunteers to stick around for another reason: free health advice.

“Keeping people motivated - particularly when they’re not losing weight - and in the trial is another challenge, but we have a few things up our sleeves.

“We have nurses, doctors, dieticians, exercise physiologists constantly monitoring participants while they’re in the trial.

“So they’re getting free pathology, heart checks, weight-loss advice.

“Most importantly if they listen to the advice and they take it on board they can lose weight, improve their health, enjoyment of life and longevity.”